'Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder!' review — friendship meets whodunit in this criminally entertaining musical

Read our review of true-crime podcast musical comedy Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder!, now in performances at the Ambassadors Theatre to 14 September.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Cleverly capitalising on our ongoing obsession with true crime, while also beautifully exploring female friendship and self-acceptance, Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! is the latest heartening new British musical success story. This 2022 Edinburgh Fringe hit looks right at home in the West End beside the likes of Operation Mincemeat, Two Strangers, and Standing at the Sky’s Edge.

The show revolves around a plucky pair of amateur sleuths. Childhood besties and drifting twentysomething misfits Kathy and Stella co-host an unsuccessful podcast (incongruously cheery sign-off: “See you next murder!”) from Kathy’s mum’s garage.

When their heroine, Felicia Taylor – who became a bestselling author after catching local serial killer The Hull Decapitor – is herself murdered, the duo suddenly have the inside track, and their podcast goes viral. But while Stella becomes intoxicated by fame, Kathy considers striking out on her own when offered her dream job.

It’s a high-wire act to spoof this genre and also convincingly supply an actual murder mystery plot that sustains a full production. For the most part, Jon Brittain (book, lyrics and co-director), Matthew Floyd Jones (music and lyrics) and Fabian Aloise (co-director and choreographer) maintain that balance brilliantly.

The show is buoyantly funny, teeming with macabre gags and Victoria Wood-esque specific one-liners, the pop-infused songs are instantly catchy (I keep humming “We’re Gonna Wow Felicia Taylor”), and there are narrative twists a-plenty. However, the suspects aren’t filled out enough to make guessing whodunit truly satisfying, and it lacks a killer Agatha Christie-level denouement (her enduring The Mousetrap sits next door).

But this is really, at heart, a love letter to friendship – and how glorious to see that particular dynamic given the same dramatic, musical and emotional heft as romance. Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds are a divine double act, especially in a knowing number about their suffocating co-dependence.

Barbé sincerely conveys Kathy’s struggles with anxiety, and her blossoming in – of all places – the morgue, where her obsessive knowledge of autopsy knives is appreciated instead of judged. That fuels a fabulous set-piece, genially supported by Elliot Broadfoot, in which Kathy dances with and high-fives a corpse.

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The bolshy, leather jacket-wearing Stella projects toughness but is deeply insecure – and so easily succumbs to the dopamine rush that is “the approval of strangers”. Hinds is both endearing and an outstanding physical comedian, whether powering through a torch song while cradling her laptop or juggling a hot cup of tea and an awkward sofa.

The tireless supporting cast also features Imelda Warren-Green as a terrifyingly intense superfan, Ben Redfern as the peculiar prime suspect, Elliotte Williams-N’Dure as the exasperated detective, and, most delightfully, the mighty-voiced Hannah-Jane Fox as Felicia the minor celebrity diva.

Aloise, the choreographic genius behind the likes of Sunset Boulevard, supplies inspired movement which includes wheelie chair-ography for the sedentary podcasters. Cecilia Carey’s effective design centres on an illuminated murder board, and Peter Small’s lighting shifts us from eerie thriller moments to disco celebration. The only issue is the sound balance: frustratingly, some of the detailed lyrics (which rhyme “Sherlock” with “Google Doc”) are drowned out.

However, you have to applaud a show that features salient commentary on the ethics of true crime, our fear of violence in a patriarchal society, Wild West internet culture, and systemic police corruption – all while giving you a criminally entertaining night out. The case of the West End transfer? Cracked it.

Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! is at the Ambassadors Theatre to 14 September. Book Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Kathy and Stella Solve A Murder! (Photos by Pamela Raith Photography)

Originally published on

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